Barwick, KY · John Malpede Interviews Zona Akemon
JM: You built the community center, right?
ZA: Yea, but he was there right.at the time we just finished the community center, just about the time we had a dedication.Robert Kennedy come through there and that's where the garden projects and all that was going on.that we had there in Barwick at the time that he come through there. And that's one of the reasons he come through there. And that's one of the reasons he come through there, he met with them in Jackson and then they went to the rural area where they were doing the garden projects to see what we were doing to try to improve.that's what he wanted. For people to improve.anything to help the poor, that's what he was interested in. And that's what we were working at at that time. I was tellin' you about my husband teachin the happy pappys and that one feller, he liked them sinuses instead of science. He said "I sure like them sinuses," John come home that night and he said " Well, I learned a new one today," and I said, "what?" He said, "I'm not teaching science, I'm teachin' sinuses," (laughs) I got tickled to death when he told me that.
Zona and John Akemon, 1945
JM: Now when did John retire from the marines?
ZA: He retired sixty-six. Well he retired in fifty-six and then he stayed in for ten more years in active reserves and then his full retirement was in sixty-six.
JM: And when did you move back to Kentucky ?
ZA: We moved in fifty-six when he first retired, we come back to Kentucky . We were in Denver Colorado, and I knew.both of us would've had to find a job in order to live there, cause what they paid the military when they retired then wasn't much.like it is now. So we'd both had to work to live in Denver, so we decided we'd come back to the home family farm and that family farm has been in the family since.in the revolutionary war days, it was a revolutionary war grant, it's over a hundred years old. And we still got it in the family. My oldest son said, "And as long as I'm livin' it's still gonna be in the family," (laughs), and he was named after his great grandfather, John III, he had a great grandfather, and two uncles between him and his daddy, his daddy was named John. He's third on down the line, that oldest boy that was there that day, that's my oldest son.
JM: Right, now is there a John IV, does he have children?
ZA: And he was in Viet Nam .
JM: When did your husband start working with the..Cause you said at the time Kennedy came through you were working on poverty things.
ZA: Well he was working on that two years before Kennedy come through there. We had been workin' on it for two years, that's when they built the center. We had been working on it for two years, and he found out about it, that's reason he wanted to come through that area and check out what we were already doing to try to help out.he was wantin' to get ideas of what needed to be done. But he didn't get to fulfill it. He would've been real good, I would've liked to have had him down in there cause he really was concerned about people. He'd a been real good. Somebody in California didn't like him. Cause that's where they finished him off.it was just two weeks after he was with us when he got killed.it was just two weeks.
JM: What prompted you and John to get involved in working on poverty?
ZA: Well, we're just that type of people. We just like.ya know.there was so many families that need help, and that's been the Akemon strategy.help your neighbor. And of course I was raised that way too, my dad was that way, I was raised that way, and so was my husband. So we were always comin up with ideas from the community to see what we could do to get something started. And that's how we started the grass roots projects, just get down with the grass roots and work up.
JM: What was the first thing you did in the grass roots project?
ZA: Well, that was the garden project mostly. Where we planted.you get seeds and we figured the best way to beat em was to have'em plant a garden and can. They got canners, jars, and everything to can up vegetables that they raised. That was the basic project, was raising gardens, and canning to provide more food. That was the garden project that we started. We managed to get a grant to get a tractor so that they could.one man could take the tractor and plow the gardens and then they'd get tillers and things to work the gardens out. And that was the basis of the garden project, was to put food on the table. Instead of just getting them food, that only lasts for that month. You get seeds, and they'd raise enough garden, they can can it and put it away and it'd do for the year. So that was the basis of that.
JM: That was great, how many families were involved in the garden project?
ZA: I'm sure seventy five families. Well, in just our area there would've been 75 families in barwick. But see it covered other areas.there was Bowlin's Creek, Turner's Creek.it was all the different areas between Barwick and Jackson. Rural areas that didn't have access to things like.town.Then, after they found the garden project was gonna go, then they started getting animals, raised rabbits, how to raise pigs, how to raise cattle, and that's their meat and milk product. So they just went from one thing to another, but as far as I know right now, I think it's folded up completely. I don 't think they're doin anything. I've not been down there in years so I don't know what they're doin. If they're doin anything, I don't know anything about it.
JM: How did it work with the animals?
ZA: Well, the way we do the animals.you get a pig.a sow.she's bred ready to have pigs. And out of the first litter, you kept one, and then you gave the rest back to the project. After that, any litter she had was yours. But you could only keep one out of the first litter of pigs. And the cattle, you had to turn back the first calf, and after that the cow was yours. And the goats was the same way. You turned the first kid back and then you got to keep the ????? goat. And the rabbits, course you know how fast they multiply. You turned the first litter of rabbits back and then after that the rabbit was yours to breed and raise the rest of em yourself to eat or whatever you wanted. Most of it was to be used for food you know. That was it.
JM: That's such a good idea, who came up with that idea, or how did you come up with it?
ZA: Well, the men that worked with it, they'd all get together and figure out how was the best way they could do it and come out so that it would be a self paying program. Cause they could go ahead and sell the pigs and things that they got in and then get more to replace the ones that's there so they wouldn't have the same ones right over and over. And that was in order to keep their program going. And my husband was one of em. And I forget the other men that were down there then. Wade Sheppard was one of em, and not for sure that he's even living now. I don't think John or him, I don't think hardly any of em that were working on it then are living now. They're about everyone gone. They worked hard at it, they sure did. They spent a lot of time at it. And they went to other counties, in other areas and told them about the project. I went all the way to.I believe it was in Virginia , we went. We took a trip to tell about our garden projects and everything. And showed em the things that we did, how we set up the things we made.
JM: So in the animal project there were also 75 families participating in that?
JM: That's great.
ZA: Well some of em didn't get animals, they didn't have no place to keep em. But now usually, a pig or a goat, they could have small areas for that, but if they had a cow, it had a little bigger area, so not as many took the cattle as they did the hogs and the goats. Course you get the goats to eat the briars. (laughs) But, it was really good, it helped a lot of people, and the canning was.we'd have nettings at the community center, and some of the women that hadn't canned before, teaching em how to use pressure canner. They were used to canning these old wash tub outside.you know how your mother did, and we were trying to teach em how to use pressure canners because it's safer. You don't have anything ruin if you can in a pressure canner. And these are the type of pressure canners that weren't like the old ones that'd blow up, they were the new Miramatic, and they were safe to use. I still got mine right in here.
JM: Oh yea?
ZA: Yea. I still got mine, and I've had to change gaskets for it a time or two but I've still got my canner. I still like to can. I like it better home canned than I do.So I enjoy doin that, so I kept my canner.I said I might need that along the line. That's the basic of the whole thing. At the community center we had the people that came to work on homes, they stayed at the community center. We used it for that so that they could help these people that needed home repair and couldn't afford it. These churches would come from New York, Cincinatti, Cleveland.we had em from Pennsylvania, lots of places, churches would come in and they would stay.the time that they were there.they would stay in the community center and work out of that and repair houses. They have house repair.????????.but I think they work with a group that's Chavies.that.what's it called.
JM: I don't know. I met some of em at the dairy queen over there.
ZA: They have.Chavies.they have up on the hill.they've got the work groups that come.and they stay at the old school up there. But it's more or less like a federal project. They get federal funds for what they do. They do a lot of insulation and things in houses that need to be done. That was the first thing mostly, was insulating houses for heat purposes. Then they went to.you know. remodeling and roofing and whatever needed to be redone. Put bathrooms in.didn't have bathrooms. Needed things like that that made living better. I worked hard with it, but that's somebody else's job now.
JM: So did you work on contacting the church groups and getting them down here.?
ZA: They still have..somebody said the other day that they still had some coming in, but I haven't talked to em lately. They still have church and community bible school at the community center. Different ones that wanna have church there, they still use it for that.
JM: So it's still in good shape, the community center?
ZA: Yea, it's still nice, they keep it in good shape. My son sees about that. It's on our property. So he sees that the building is taken care of.
JM: And the school is also on your property?
ZA: Yea, it's still standin there, it's on our property too. The one they made the library out of. Yea.
JM: So it was always on your property even when it was a school. Right?
ZA: Yea. It's always been the Akemon property. They left it in the family estate when our father died. He said, "Now don't sell the property," he said, "Yall just stay together and keep it, cause I don't want it sold." So it's still an estate, we all own our shares and we can keep the coal companies out. They won't fool with somethin' like that cause it's too many people to contact. So that stopped it right there. But they had already deep mined it for years. So it really is not that much worth. And it would destroy all the homes, cause if they flattened the hills it would fill both them hollers up and those hollers are both full of families. And who wants to have families tore up, it's not worth that or the timbered take em out. They have to watch the timber people too, my son does. He has to go around the property line right often to keep the timber people from comin over cause there's a lot of virgin tree and timber on that land.
JM: Oh, is that right? That happens, they just go across the property line.
ZA: It sure will, sure will. And he's known the property line since he was a little boy. His daddy took him around and they marked the trees. So he goes out regular and marks the trees and make sure that they don't.He's had a lot of trouble that way. And I had one fella.came from over on the middle fork.and he knew the family now mind you.in fact he was related to some of the older ones.the mammy Akemon's.she was a Callahan.And he came over there unloaded a bulldozer and started up in a holler.that was just above the heights there from where.it was gonna come right around back of my house with a bulldozer. He was gonna get coal. Somebody had come down the holler and told me about it. Buddy I went up there.I said you know what you do with that bulldozer don't ya? You can load it right back on your truck and go back to middle fork. "Who'd you get permission from?" Well he said, "I just thought I could go."
I said, " No you're not going up in there," I said, "and anyhow, you go to Hazard and you see the rest of the folks up there and they'll tell you whether you can go in there."
Well, he went to see my husband's sister. It was after my husband had died and he thought since I was alone, that he was gonna get in on that property. Well, he went to see my husband's sister up here in Hazard. He said, "I started a bulldozer and was goin around back of Hoot Owl Holler in back of the house there, was gonna check for some coal and that little woman down there run me off. Said if I didn't move she'd get her shotgun." I didn't even own a shotgun. And Ellen said yes, it's a good thing you moved too, cause she would sure use it. I never even shot a shotgun before. And he said you reckon she would? She said you better not go on there, cause if she don't I will. You know better than that, you goin up there unless you know that pappy Akemon wouldn't have that. He said, well, I'm sorry I won't be back. She said no, you better not be back. So that was the end of that. It's still just in the family estate. We all just hangin on to that, heirs are keeping it that way cause that way, when the coal company or somebody wants to see somethin', you have to contact all the heirs, well they're not gonna contact ten heirs when they're scattered all over the United States. So that ended that. So that's the reason it's like that, they wanted to keep it. Cause there's not very many properties that's revolutionary war ground. All we had was 365 acres, but most of it's hilltop, you know. I guess maybe about 25 acres that you could farm. The rest of it was either hillside or you could make it into pasture for cattle or something like that but that was all. But they had to mine coal out of that for years. When their dad was livin.pappy.they hauled the timber out years ago and they logged ????? and floated em down the river, whenever the river'd come up in the spring. And they'd float them log rafts all the way to Frankfort . And they hauled the logs out with yotes ??????? That's how they doin' it. So its got a lot of history in it.
JM: So you own the whole holler there, is that it?
ZA: Yea, well, it goes too.have you been down where the school house is? Well, both hills on either side of that, and then you go on around as you come down in there, that other holler that's up there, all that whole area is Akemon property and it goes across the river on the other side too. There's at least 25, no it's closer to 50 to 100 acres on the other side of the river. That's where our cemetery is, on top of the hill on the other side of the river. We used to had to go across a swingin' bridge, but now they've got a low water bridge, when it don't flood, you can get across. But, I always liked it when I got back to Kentucky , I said Nebraska 's too flat for me, I can't handle that no more. I like my hills. Especially when the tornadoes come, you don't get em like you do out there.
JM: We were just talking about that in my holler.
ZA: Just the other day, they had a tornado warning for Furnace county, Nebraska . And that's the very county I was raised in. I said well I'm glad I'm not home, I'd a got blowed away. But, it's somethin' to think about, you never know sometimes why you're where you are.
JM: When did you build the community center?
ZA: We finished it in sixty nine. For about two years, we raised money for it. We had box suppers, pie suppers.out in yards.and things like that. Just any way we could raise money. Then after we raised so much money, they give us a grant. And the meninite men that are carpenters they got together and helped us build it if they could have church there. So they did all the block work. The main block work in building the center. Then we had a work group come in and help finish doin the insulation and the paneling.it's paneled inside. That's how we got it together. After we got it built, we still lacked so much of payin' on it, so we still kept havin' activities and raisin' money any way we could. Then when we got it all paid off, we burnt the mortgage. I showed that little picture, but it didn't come out good. That was the only picture we had of it, that was burnin' the mortgage. It just barely showed the flame of burnin the mortgage is all it showed. So they had different church groups that come in and go ahead and have church there. They just have to help keep the light bill paid, and things like that. Give money to my son and he sees that the light bill's paid.
JM: There were pictures of quilts, was that another activity that you were doing over at the community center? Making quilts?
ZA: Yea, I don't quilt, but we made quilts. We made these quilts and give em to people that have burn outs.you know.lose things in their home. That's what we made most of the quilts for. We made light quilts and we'd take em to the nursing home. A lot of times they was just in a wheel chair and they need a little quilt over their legs and we'd make them and take'em up the nursing home up here. We had the girl from extension agent, she would come out and give classes on how to cook different things.for different diets.things like that that helped families too. Cause if you're a diabetic or somethin' you have to be careful. So we had a lot of meetings like that when the county extension agents would come out and help em with things like that.
JM: How long did John and you work with the community.with the grass roots program?
ZA: Well, he worked at it.he started working at it in the 60's, cause the community center was completed in 69', so he started working in it at least a year before that about 68', and he worked in it till he got sick and he died in 74'. And then I stayed workin' in it after that till just a while before I come up here, and I came up here in 90', so we spent many years with the community work.
JM: So those programs are still going on.the gardening program and everything?
ZA: I just don't know what's going on down there, I really don't.
JM: When you moved up here though, they weren't going on?
ZA: Not too much. Some but not too much. We had a little problem.you know how programs go, somebody gets their finger in the pie. And that's what was happening when I left down there. And I had got out of the project before that because I said I'm not going to be guilty of what's going on. And I knew what was going on, but after some of the.and what made it bad was a lot of these church groups were furnishing us extra money since..2 or 3 thousand dollars at a time.like to buy garden seeds, to what we needed for the community center, Christmas programs for the kids, get all the kids in the community a christmas present. Things like that. And then all of a sudden the money started disappearing. And so.a lot of it closed down after that. That'll ruin a project quicker than anything. So I hated it, but it happens. I don't care what you.somebody's always wanna stick their finger in the pie. That money gets to looking real good goin across the table instead of goin for what it needed to go for. So as far as I know, there's nothing going on down there in Barwick, in Jackson I don't know. I haven't been down that way.
JM: How are people.living down in Barwick, how are they doing now?
ZA: Oh people still garden, that always gardened anyhow. They just used to doin' that way. But the younger ones aren't gonna garden, because unless their parents teach em how. But I always enjoyed the gardening. I gardened after I moved up here, that's the reason I brought my canner with me. Cause when I was up here, that lady, we had a garden.my nephew and I had a garden right down on the river bank. And I canned out of it every year. They were puttin' beans and things in the freezer, and I said let me go get my canner and let's can em. And I got to cannin' and they wouldn't put none in the freezer after that. That's the reason my canner was up here. You pressure can it, it will last indefinitely if you keep it where it's dry it'll last a long time.
JM: Were there any vistas in Barwick?
ZA: Yea, we used to have em. Yea we had vista workers. When we were building the community center because when we finished building the community center we just got it finished, we had a vista worker that worked there with us a long time. He got killed in a jeep wreck while he was here. So when they dedicated the community center, they dedicated it to my husband and this vista worker.I'm tryin' to think of his name. I thought of it the other day and I can't...and his parents come to the community center and we had a service for him there, but where they took him away.took him to his..and he worked there for a long time. Now why can't I think of his name.But they dedicated the center and we put a plaque up in the center to my husband and him, cause he worked with us a long time. He lived around there and stayed there, and went all around the area helping with different things. We had a lot of vista workers in and out.
JM: What sort of projects did they do generally?
ZA: They just worked with the projects we had more or less, you know.just worked with that.
JM: How was the grass roots action committee organized?
ZA: Like I said, my husband went and talked with some men down there. He was working with the happy pappy's and he got to talk to some of the men in Jackson . And told em about settin' up a project like that to help the people besides just the happy pappy's where they ?????? cemeteries and things. They just got together and started workin' on it.
JM: Was he the chairmen of it?
ZA: He was at the start. He stayed that way most of the time through it. That's how come Robert Kennedy.him bein involved with Robert Kennedy then was because of him bein in that project in Jackson , and he came through Jackson . He met him down there, and then from Jackson he come through all the rural areas to Breathitt county and then they come on up to Hazard after that.
JM: We should talk a little bit about when Kennedy came over to Barwick.
Zona Akemon's Trailer circa 1968
ZA: When he came, that was the day I told you he come out there by the trailer and I fixed a lunch for him that day and then went from there to ????????? down there across from my house to a family over there that's real poor, they had several children. Jack Baker I believe was the one that lived over there at that time. He come in and thanked me for fixin' the food for him, some of them stayed there and ate, I fixed it outside cause my trailer was so small, I just had tables set up outside to put the food on where they'd have more room. Cause they was quite a few of em. He came in the house that day, and I never did get any of the pictures, he said we'll send you some pictures back, but then like I said he got killed before he got a chance to find out what was goin' on. He talked to ????? down there and then he went across the swingin' bridge to Jack Baker's house, and from there they went up on the river to the other area, that's where the little Stidham girl sit on his lap up there. There's a whole family of em up there. The mother.she had 13 children, two of em died and that was a big family. It was one of her boy's little girls. They had a picture of her on his lap and she's grown up by now, she's got a little boy and a grandbaby. She still lives up on the river though. He went to family up on Miller's Branch, they had a family of 13 children and all of em at home, they were still young children, all of em. They didn't have to big of a house but they managed. I got tickled at her, she said as soon they ate up one kettle of beans she had another'n on the stove to cook. She'd have fried greens and gravy for breakfast, and biscuits and fried beans and gravy for breakfast. Then she'd have a kittle of beans cookin' for em to have their supper. Then if they was any left then they'd start all over again, that was their routine that's about what they had. But like I said, with this garden stuff there was more variety. They could have their cabbage, their krout, and different things like that. But she canned the whole time anyhow. But, it was a lot handier when we you know.the canners on hand and things like that. Her husband just died recently. She's still alive and all her children are alive and grown and got families.
JM: They still live over there?
ZA: Yea, No, she lives over by Chavies.
JM: What was her name?
ZA: Genoble Collins. Jack Baker's dead, and his wife's dead, their both dead.
The Stidhams are still up on the river. She was Sam Stidham's girl and they still live up on the river.
JM: And that's up by where the other one room school house used to be?
ZA: Yea, way on up on the river. Way on up there. Cross the railroad tracks and go up the river road. They're clear almost to the end of the road up there. That's Selma Stidham's. That's where that high swingin' bridge is.
JM: Oh I've been over that, that's scary.
ZA: That's the big one.
I think that was the only families that he stopped at was Jack Baker's and Marge Collins' and Sam Stidham's. Those were the families that he contacted, but he went to both swingin' bridges and up Miller's Branch.
JM: Did John go with him up to those houses?
ZA: Oh yea, he went everywhere he went. Yea, he took him to those different places. Yea, he went with him and was with him all the way to Hazard, then he come back from Hazard. He went through Jackson through all that, I think they stopped in some places in Alcro, but I don't remember what ones they were. But they stopped different places from Jackson . Till they got to Barwick and then...he come on to Hazard with him.
JM: Were you in the school with him, when he went into the school?
ZA: No, I stayed down at the house. I didn't go to the school house with him. They had been to the school house before they came out to the house. Because they had to come by the house to go to the swingin' bridge where Jack Baker lived across that one. That's when they come by the house and stopped and eat a snack and then they went on. So I didn't go out there to the school house at all. I just seen him when he was there at the house.
It was pretty weather, just so happened, it had rained all day the day before, I said oh no. Cause I knew he was comin'. It was cloudy that day but it didn't rain. Had a real good day for it.
JM: It was cold though, right? Was it cold?
JM: How long was the one room school.when did that stop being a school?
ZA: They closed the school out.my middle son finished going to school there. They still had the first three grades and he had to go to Jackson . The youngest one started school in 75, and he had to go to Jackson all together. So the school had been closed.now he came through there in the late sixties.the school was closed right after that.I believe in the seventies. My middle boy had to go to Jackson , he was in sixth grade, and the other boy had to start school in Jackson . Either that or go to Turner's creek and it was about the same distance either way. Had to get on a bus at six o'clock in the morning. Got home at 4 o'clock at night. That was a long day, and my little fella, his first year of school, he got sick. The doctor said it was just too much.such a long trip, he just lost his daddy just before he started school. And it was just too much. So he'd go on Mon.'s and Wed.'s and they'd send homework. And that's how he finished first and second grade. Then after that he got OK and he went the rest of the time. But it was real hard on him. A lot of em they sent to the Chavies school so they didn't have to go so far. But they sort of bucked on that cause they said they was comin from Breathitt into Perry County you know how that'll.
JM: Chavies is in Perry county?
ZA: Yea, it's in Perry County . Yea we're right on the borderline right on the top of the hill as you go out of Barwick into Chavies, right at the top of the hill is where the line goes from Breathitt to Perry.
JM: Who are these men that are with John at the opening of the community center?
ZA: I was tryin' to figure the other day, who they were. They were from down in Jackson but I can't remember who they were. They worked with the grass roots some too, and they helped with the grant that we got and everything, and that's the ones that were there that day.
JM: What about John's military career and his purple heart and all that.
ZA: Well, he went everywhere. He was in the pacific. That's where he got hit, he was on Saipan . But he got again, but it wasn't that serious, on Iwo Jima . His unit was the one that put the flag up on Iwo Jima . It was the boys from his unit that done that. He was aboard ship, headin' to Japan when they signed the peace treaty. So then, he finally got to come back home. He was in the pacific for two years. Cause their first stop was Roy Hallore ??? then they went from there back to Maui . Maui was their home base. And then they would come back to Saipan . After he got hit, they doctored him up, he just sit in a cave and did telephone relay because he couldn't get out in the field anymore till they got him back to Maui and doctored him up. And they went from Maui then they went to Iwo Jima . He didn't hit Okanowa. It was just a plain sand beach that they had to come on. And they had these big howitzers and shoot at em comin' out of the water and they didn't have no coverage. And the ships was afraid they was gonna sink them and they went off and left him. And come back a week later and they were about starved to death. They didn't have no provisions or nothin'. They finally come back in and brought em provisions. They were starving to death. They didn't have no water and they were afraid to drink the water they had there. They really had it hard really more than they had in Germany . They had it hard over there, but they weren't going island hopping, where in Germany they were on land most of the time. I'm not saying they didn't have a battle too, I'm just saying it really was dangerous work. It really was, you took your life in your hands every time you got off that boat. It was just a miracle, the ones that did get back. Bless his heart, he got back and he'd only been back about two months and there was little kids playing in the yard out there. And I never thought anything about it but he said, I'm just watchin' these children out here playin', I never thought I'd ever see that again. And I mean, just little things like that that I didn't even think about but to him it was something special. And if you struck a match he'd fly.
JM: Did all your children go to the one room school house in Barwick.
ZA: All but the youngest one, he had to go to Jackson . But the rest of em went to the one room school out there. They did their first eight grades there, the two oldest ones. Then the other went until he was in the sixth grade and then they made him go to Jackson . Then they closed the school completely after that.
JM: When was that school built.
ZA: They built that when they was takin' the coal out of there. People that had the coal company and everything. Them and Pappy's brother, Johnnie's uncle. They built the camp houses and all that Miller's branch was camp houses all the way up through there. So they built the school then. When they built it on Akemon property, where they got the timber out. They'd have lumber cut to build it with. Pappy give em the property, but he said whenever they cease to have a school there, it had to go back to the property owner. Him and the coal company seen that it got built so the kids would have a place to go to school. They had a school on the other branch on Strom Branch and they had one up on the river. Way on past where you went there on the river. They had a school way up there, but they didn't have one on Miller's Branch. So they built that one on Miller's Branch. So it stayed there from then on. And then the other schools closed out and it was the last one closed in Breathitt county. We kept it open just as long as we could, and that was the last school to close in Breathitt county.
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